On the importance of filing a motion for class certification concurrently with the complaint...

The case is Grimes v. Sage Telecom Communications, LLC, 2018 IL App (1st) 171455.

Facts

Maurice Grimes paid Sage $53.84 monthly and in advance for telephone service. In late August of 2015, there was a two-week period where his phone service was interrupted. About a year later, he filed a class action complaint on behalf of himself and other Sage customers for a partial refund owed as a result of the service outage. Notably, he did not file a motion for class certification concurrently with his complaint.

About two months later, the defendant offered to resolve the matter by hand-delivering a cashier's check in the amount of $100.00 payable to Grimes. Sage asked Grimes to dismiss his complaint, and when he didn't, Sage filed a motion to dismiss. Sage's motion to dismiss alleged that the $100.00 payment more than covered Grimes' damages plus interest, which totaled $28.94. 

A few weeks thereafter, Grimes filed his motion for class certification. Grimes' memorandum of law argued that the $100.00 payment did not cover his damages because the amount was insufficient to cover his court costs (another few hundred dollars). For support, he cited two provisions of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, 735 ILCS 5/5-108 and 5/5-126.

Trial Court Ruling

The trial court granted Sage's motion to dismiss. It noted that when a class representative's claims are resolved before a motion for class certification is filed, the class action complaint is moot. The trial court further held that Sage's tender of relief to Grimes, to be effective, did not have to include his court costs.

Appellate Court's Decision

The appellate court affirmed the trial court's ruling. 

First, the court held that 735 ILCS 5/5-108 of the Code of Civil Procedure did not apply, because that section dealt with an award of costs accompanying a judgment in favor of a plaintiff. In this case, Sage's tender of relief was not made as a result of a judgment in favor of Grimes. 

Second, the court held that 735 ILCS 5/5-126 was also inapplicable. It noted that this section of the Code seeks to limit a party's costs after it makes a sufficient settlement offer or tender of relief to an adversary. The court noted that a tender under this section has no effect on the viability of a lawsuit.

Lastly, the court held that Grimes' general request for relief cannot be read to include costs. The court said 735 ILCS 5/2-604 of the Code protects litigants against surprise in prayers for relief. Thus, because the prayer for relief in Grimes' complaint only asked for reimbursement of a portion of the $53.84  monthly charge, the court would not read a request for costs into it.

Relying on the Illinois Supreme Court's ruling in Barber v. American Airlines, Inc., 241 Ill.2d 450, the court held that Sage's tender of relief mooted Grimes' class action complaint because he had not filed a motion to certify the class before Sage's tender.

The Takeaway

This case reinforces the importance of filing a motion to certify the class concurrently with a class action complaint. That way, the class action allegations do not become moot in the event that a defendant offers a class representative full relief. 

It seems as though what happened in Grimes is that the plaintiff was left trying to cure a procedural mistake by crafting arguments based on what counts as a sufficient tender of relief. A valiant effort, but one that ultimately proved fatal to his class action allegations.